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Chow Line

I think all veterans have a few stories from basic training that they tell repeatedly over the years. I recently got in contact with one of my boot camp company commanders and he suggested that I write them down.

SR (Seaman Recruit) Ball had quickly developed the reputation as the company trouble maker. One day we were falling in line inside the barracks to leave for chow. The company commanders were out of sight at the time, probably in their office. Ball attempt to cut in line. I called him out and told him to fall in. We exchanged a few words and out of nowhere Ball punched me in the face. I didn't see it coming at all. As I recovered with my fist tight to retaliate and my eye watering from the strike someone called "Attention on deck!".

The Company Commanders had entered the room. Everyone snapped to attention. The entire company was in line, except Ball. I don't know if the Company Commanders had seen the altercation or if it was just fortunate timing, but upon seeing Ball out of line, they approached me. There I stood, tears in one eye, my face red from both the punch and the resulting anger, and Ball right in front of me.

I don't remember which commander spoke, but one of them addressed me, "What's going on here EPO?" My brain raced with every possible outcome from whatever answer I could give. If I tell that Ball hit me because I wouldn't let him cut in line, he might get kicked out of the Navy. If I say nothing happened but they had seen the altercation, then I might be stripped of my crow (rank). Am I a wimp if I tell or am I stupid if I don't? So many possibilities, but my reply was immediate, "Seaman Recruit Ball and I had a disagreement, but I think he sees things my way now."

I stood there terrified. Was that the best thing I could have said? I expected to be ordered to do push-ups any second, yet at the same time I didn't know what to expect. What actually happened was an anticlimactic surprise. The Company Commander turned to Ball and asked, "Is that right, Ball?" Ball replied, "Yes, Sir." Ball was ordered to fall in, and we marched to chow.

The incident was never spoken of again, at least not that I know of. I also never had any trouble from SR Ball again. Over the past twenty-eight years, I have often wondered if Ball turned out to be a good sailor.

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